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Tobacco-smoking, mid 20th Century

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Rolling your own cigarettes, early-to-mid 20th Century

'Roll ups' cigarettes

In view of the shortages and austerity during the Second World War and the years afterwards, my father made his own cigarettes from cigarette papers and tobacco, both bought from the local tobacconist. These cigarettes were known as 'roll-ups'.

Guest contribution

Tobacco from used cigarette stubs

We made our own 'roll ups' from stubs in ashtrays around the house when desperate for tobacco and money was short. A joke at the time in men's urinals was "Please do not discard your cigarette butts in the urinal as this makes them nearly unsmokeable".

Desmond Dyer

Cigarette papers

The cigarette papers were made by Rizla. I never knew of any other brands.

They came as the right size for a cigarette, were ready-gummed along one edge and were interleaved in the packet so that as one paper was pulled out, the edge of another paper popped out ready for use.

The roll your own cigarette machine

Making one's own roll-ups was common practice. There was a special gadget for it, known - in spite of its simplicity - as a machine. It had two rollers, joined together with a length of some sort of fabric, as shown in the photograph.

Machine for rolling one's own cigarettes as used in the mid 1900s, shown with a packet of Rizla cigarette papers

Gadget, generally known as a machine, for rolling one's own cigarettes, and a packet of cigarette papers for use with the gadget, photographed in Winchester City Museum

To make a roll-up cigarette, a cigarette paper was laid between the rollers and the tobacco was spread onto it. Then the rollers were rolled together so that only the edge of the paper showed. This was gummed, and was licked to activate the gum. The rollers were rolled. and out came a cigarette. The whole process was known as 'rolling your own'.

The appearance and flavour of roll-ups

My father's roll-up cigarettes always seemed to be much floppier, thinner and empty at the ends than the bought sort. Whether this was how he made them to save money, or whether it was the way they came out of the machine, I don't know.


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